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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mathematics is its own reward

Well, numbers have never been my strong suit, so I would imagine that any endeavor whose success is highly dependent upon numbers is just one big migraine threatening to happen.

Consider the evangelicals. They love to count sheep - and I'm not talking about about a solution for insomnia.

Jesus, of course, never said anything about counting sheep. He just talked about loving them and feeding them.

But, evangelicals, it seems, love to count. They count everything - how many members they have. How many members TEC is loosing. How many we have lost. How many we have lost in the past five years. Ten years. Fifteen years. How many people are flocking to the Anglican churches in Africa. How many members they are projected to get when the Archbishop of Canterbury declares them the "true faith" and TEC "apostate."

It's just a mathematical whirl.

Case in point: Mark Lawrence - erstwhile bishop-elect of South Carolina. Apparently, the counting of the consents of Standing Committees, a requirement in the election process, is going a bit, well, slow. Indeed, the "Bakersfield Californian" recently published an article with the fascinating headline:


I've posted the article, in its entirety, below.

It was the way the article ended that caught my eye.

It reads: "Claiming roots in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members. The Episcopal Church, whose members have dwindled to about 800,000, oversees more than 7,600 congregations and 111 dioceses."

Well, earlier today, I also posted the article on the House of Bishops and Deputies Listserve, with this preface: "I understand the anger and frustration, truly I do. But, really, when did we go from 2.2 million members to 800,000 members? Three guesses as to the mathematician."

And, right on cue, Kendall Harmon answered.

"Elizabeth, it appears the reporter using the average Sunday attedance figure, in whiuch case he is in the ballpark when speaking of 800,000"

"There were 787,271 in ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) in the domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church according to the 2007 Annual (based on 2005 parochial reports)."

Gee, I wonder how the reporter got THOSE statistics?

I've been interviewed enough to know that journalists, themselves (especially the good ones) will tell you that they are basically lazy people. They will call the same people over and over - especially those who are good at the refined art of speaking in "sound bite." Oh, of course, they will call the identified leaders of the particular, appropriate group, but they also have their own rolodex files of reliably printable responses.

And, as long as you feed them information they know they can substatiate (which Kendall had at his immediate fingertips), they'll print what you tell them.

I suppose Kendall doesn't realize that I know this. I mean, I'm just a girl.

So, I wrote back:

"Membership is VERY different from attendance, Kendall.

Or, perhaps, for your purposes, it isn't.

This would certainly help explain the fact that when splinter groups like AAC or CANA or AMiA or, for that matter, Mr. Akinola or Mr. Kolini talk about the millions of MEMBERS in their various churches, they are "apparently" talking about ATTENDANCE.

That distinction makes things a great deal more apparent - which is that there is a great deal of difference between the long term commitment of baptism (MEMBERSHIP) and the religious fervor of an evangelical service (ATTENDANCE).

But then again, that kind of stability doesn't help inflame newspaper stories - much less fit into "the spin that you're in."

Kendall wrote back

"Elizabeth, my oh my. I wasn't defending it I was seeking to explain it. It was a guess. I am not interested in spin, but the truth. Comes from my undergraduate chemistry degree, to an extent. Why you went off on other topics I will leave to others to decide. Cheers."

That substance you see dripping off those words is a mixture of patronizing attitude mixed in with a heavy dollop of contempt.

My, oh, my, apparently some people are so stuck in a spin cycle, they can't even tell what direction they had originally directed the conversation.

I have a friend who, even as we speak, is creating a needlpoint sampler which says:

"Many people say I embarrass them with my humility." - +Abuja's (Akinola)

"I am not interested in spin, but the truth. - KSH"

I think it would be absolutely perfect if he were to add:

"I stay in The Episcopal Church because I love a good fight." - DCA (David Anderson)

Well, those who love to count numbers will have a veritible field day as the "count down" to the consent process of Mark Lawrence continues. For some, it will be like Chinese water torture, dripping in one consent at a time.

The speculation is high on both sides of the aisle that, with dioceses choosing not to respond (which counts as a no vote), Lawrence will not achieve the necessary consents.

And that, of course, will open up an entirely new kettle of Anglican fish. I can tell you already, it stinks to high heaven.

I think it was H.L. Menchen who once said, "Opera is its own reward."

Apparently, so is mathematics.

Oye, already I can feel such a headache coming on like you wouldn't believe!

From the "Bakersfield Californian."

Flap keeps man from assuming bishop's post
BY MARK BARNA, Californian staff writer
e-mail: Thursday, Jan 18 2007 9:50 PM
Last Updated: Thursday, Jan 18 2007 9:54 PM

The controversies roiling the Episcopal Church are clouding the future of Rev. Mark Lawrence of Bakersfield, who was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in September.

Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, who grew up in Bakersfield, has been elected Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. He will be leaving St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bakersfield.

Bureaucracy and objections to his being bishop have kept Lawrence from assuming the post, authorities at the South Carolina diocese said Thursday.

Lawrence represents the conservative values of the San Joaquin diocese, which are at odds with the U.S. Episcopal Church. Though the South Carolina diocese voted him bishop, a majority of other dioceses are questioning his election.

Bishops and committees have requested more information from and personal interviews with Lawrence to nail down his theological views, said Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the South Carolina diocese.

"It is a very difficult process," Harmon said, "and unfortunately, church conflict is taking its toll on the discernment process."

Meanwhile Lawrence, who was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, continues to pastor at St. Paul's Episcopal Parish downtown.

In an open later posted on the church's Web site last Friday, Lawrence says his departure to South Carolina has been postponed twice and, because of delays, he will not be consecrated on Feb. 24 as planned.

"You are in a parish," he writes to the laity, "whose rector has been thrust into the center of a national and, even, international debate within the Anglican Communion."

Officials at St. Paul could not be reached Thursday for comment.

For several decades, the U.S. Episcopal Church has been feuding internally about the authority of Scripture. The majority of American Episcopalians are progressives, believing that God's word is an evolving revelation.

The minority are conservative like Lawrence, holding fast to the inerrancy of Scripture and objecting to the 2003 consecration of a gay Episcopal bishop and the 2006 election of a presiding woman bishop of the national body, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Further hurting Lawrence's chances, Harmon said, is that the reverend supports the highly conservative San Joaquin diocese, which last June requested to be overseen by someone other than Schori. The diocese, which oversees 50 Central Valley churches, including three in Bakersfield, is one of only three in the country that refuses to ordain women.

If a majority of Episcopal dioceses do not consent to Lawrence's election, he will not be consecrated, deepening the schism within the church, analysts say.

Because Lawrence was voted by a landslide of the clergy and laity of the South Carolina diocese, the holdup is a bitter pill to swallow.

"The South Carolina diocese has made a decision," Harmon said, "and our decision is not being respected but re-evaluated. People here are getting their feelings hurt."

The Rev. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee at the South Carolina diocese, said the deadline for the process has been pushed back to March 9. By mid-March the diocese will know whether Lawrence is the next bishop of South Carolina.

"Mark will be in Bakersfield waiting for his consent process (to be completed)," McCormick said. "We wish everything was faster, but there's nothing we can do about that."

Claiming roots in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members. The Episcopal Church, whose members have dwindled to about 800,000, oversees more than 7,600 congregations and 111 dioceses.


Elmo said...

I would agree with your distinction between "membership" and "attendance" if there were more attendees than members. If that were the case, then logically the members are those attendees that are committed enough to officially associate themselves. It could be generalized as "all members are attendees, but not all attendees are members."

But the truth is the opposite. There are nearly three times as many members as attendees. What that tells me is that, logically, the attendees are the members who are committed enough to show up. It could be generalized as "all attendees are members, but not all members are attendees."

Of course there will always be exceptions: nonmembers who attend, members who stay home, etc. But what is the over arching trend? At my ELCA church (in full communion with the ECUSA) we have just shy of 1000 members. But our average Sunday attendance hovers around 425. Out of that 425 we have 6-10 one time visitors, and 5-7 families that regularly attend, but aren't members. That means there are only about 385 members in regular attendance out of 1000.

Your description is lacking, because, according to those statistics, nearly two thirds of those who have made the "long term commitment" you mentioned aren't showing up. Your phrase "the religious fervor of an evangelical service" implies that showing up regularly is no indicator of your commitment, while showing up on one special day is.

Think of this hypothetical situation: there are 22 million married couples in America. Also, including married couples, there are 8 million cohabiting couples in America. Which number shows a more committed group, the one that stresses the long term commitment of the marriage ceremony, or the one that stresses being together. I can't make that call for you, but it seems pretty obvious.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And I disagree with your logic, which is deeply, deeply flawed.

It is based on assumption - "the truth is the opposite," and not substantiated fact "nearly three times as many members as attendees" - which is never the basis for a logical arument.

So much so that I almost hit "delete" but then, you are anonymous as well as NOT the least bit "snarky", I thought I'd just let you have your say.

Eileen said...


All churches have more members then attendees. ALL OF THEM.

So, what is the point?

Without a point of comparison across time to other groups of churches, it is meaningless.

Being a non-math person myself, I don't feel in the least bit inclined to go dig this information up, but I'm sure someone else will.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

But, I think the point about AAC, AMiA and CANA spliter groups is that there are FEWER members than people who ATTEND.

So, to claim greater MEMBERS than those who ATTEND - is yet another spin these splinter groups love to spin.

TEC has more members than those who attend. We also have more members than CANA, AMiA and AAC.

I'm going to stop now, before I get a headache.

Eileen said...

See..I told you. It's pointless.

Spin, spin, spin.

Numbers mean nothing without context, and context can be contorted.

If membership and attendence were the same - that would be news worth investigating!

Until then, numbers can mean anything and nothing.

Paul (A.) said...

I do congratulate you, Mother Kaeton, for eliciting a response (and such a quick one) from the so-taciturn-when-called-out Canon Harmon. His protesting overmuch would appear to damn him in this instance.